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Hidden Danger

Resourcefulness was a rule among the kids of Vashon.  The insularity of the island from the city and the fact that Vashon was mostly woods gave us an edge in creating something from nothing.  We had safe play and we did dangerous things.  

Take a driftwood fort that took all afternoon to build and amounted to nothing but carefully placed sticks and logs, we could drag to a site above the tide line.  Sticks and boards stuck in the gravel to keep them upright made a good wall, much like the shacks the Indians built with vertical cedar planks with the cracks filled with moss; only their houses were practical and ours weren’t.  You could see the sky through the 5 foot cedar shingles the Indians used for their roofs but no rain came in.  It was a mystery to us.  Our roofs leaked like a sieve.  

We found that large sheets of moss rolled up like a lawn and placed inside the shelter made for a good soft bed that smelled nice.  The roof of small sticks wouldn’t keep out the water, but it did let the light through.  An upside down rowboat with the bow propped up by two vertical sticks made a good shelter and an oar stuck in the gravel made a good flagpole, only if the wind didn’t blow too hard.

The inherent danger of riding a beach log to catch the waves of a passing freighter scared the daylights out of us.  Kit Bradley, our neighbor, was halfway across Colvos Passage with only a stick for an oar; when he disappeared behind a giant wave, only to appear on the top of the next one.  The current in Colvos Passage is very strong and always flows north.  By the time Kit made shore again, he was all the way to Cove, a half mile up the beach.   

Brother Mike told me the following story as an example of some of the hair brained things we did; absconding Grandma’s rowboat without permission was one of them.  

“Hey Mike, let’s take Grandma Ada’s boat out,” Cousin Jim yelled from the beach.  “The wind is up and it’s out of the North.”  So Brother Mike and Jim lashed a crossbar on a short pole which was then lashed to the space between the bow and the front seat.  An old tattered blanket served for a sail and Mike and Jim shoved off from the beach at Quartermaster, to be caught by the wind in a sea of white-caps.  They used an oar to steer-by as they sped down the beach, almost as fast as Jim’s dog; “Spooky” who ran along the shore.  The white caps made a hiss as the wind blew the tops off the waves and made the boat hard to steer as the following waves kicked the stern from side to side, threatening to capsize the boat.  Just the kind of foolish danger that young ones love and mother’s hate.

It was at that time that Mike and Jim decided to take down the sail and row for shore.  Instead, they turned around off Raab’s Lagoon and rowed against the wind to get home to Portage.  The waves were lifting the bow of that little boat so high, and then sliding down the other side.  Water came into the boat and Jim bailed with a coffee can while Mike rowed.  They could take it no more and got out of the boat, close to shore and stayed in their tennis shoes, to keep from getting cut by the barnacles and proceeded to pull the boat up the shore to Portage and the Homestead, where Grandma Ada was waiting with a big stick.  Mike yelled at Jim who cocked one hand to his ear, so he could hear in the wind, “You couldn’t learn to ski, if you didn’t fall.”